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Global Indian Chronicles

Small Community With a Big Heart Aims to Change the World!

Malyalee Association of Memphis"Our shelves have been running bare the past few months. More people are lining up for food than we have seen in a long time. We need all the help we can get". Late in October 2011, a group of around twenty people had their eyes focused on Paula for the second time in 2011 as she spoke to them during their orientation at the Midsouth Food Bank. This crew of volunteers ranged in age from 8 to 70 and they had one thing in common: they belonged to a community that is determined to make a difference in this adopted home of theirs. The Malayalee Association of Memphis brings together people who trace their roots to the southern state of Kerala. What began as a small group of families a decade ago is now about seventy strong. They believe that while one person can make a difference, having everyone working together can change the world.

When you are far away from home, coming together to celebrate tradition, is an instinctual act. One that is common to many regional organizations in foreign lands. The elders loved the camaraderie and the young ones were subtly instructed about their roots and their  heritage. Every year, the families come together during major festivals like Onam, Vishu and Christmas and display their creativity and make memories over delicious lip-smacking home cooked food. But somewhere along the line, a need was felt to do more than just celebrate what bound them together. The desire to give back to the local community as a collective gained traction and manifested itself in the formal establishment of the Malayalee Association of Memphis (MAM).

The mission of the organization states that the primary focus is to provide opportunities for its members to do charity and volunteering work. Such a goal can be daunting given the myriad of volunteering opportunities out there and the individual desire to serve in a specific area. But MAM seems to have found the fine balance that brings most of its members together to help those in need. Many of its activities are focused towards the hungry, the elderly and activities that have significant instructional value to its youngest members.

On a cold and blustery morning in April this year, they showed up at the Mid-South Hot Wings Festival trying to raise funds for the Ronald McDonald House of Charities. With the only Indian presence at the festival, they delighted the palates of the foodies with the spicy kick in their wings. During this years Holiday Bakes the kids put on their culinary hats to make Pumpkin and fruit cakes. The proceeds from the sales were used to buy gifts for birthday bags for MIFA. Not only did they learn the intricacies involved in baking, they were given the responsibility of deciding what gifts to buy and practice their packing skills. Earlier that year, they had assembled together to attend the MIFA Martin Luther King day celebrations where the surprise chief guest was the Governor of Tennessee the Hon. Mr. Bill Haslam. Later that year, the kids had a rollicking time washing cars while raising funds for the organization. A chemistry is being developed among the kids that will encourage them to take on bigger projects in the future.

Malyalee Association of MemphisThe good people of MAM have also been gathering at walks and raising funds to show support for the Juvenile Diabetes Reserach Foundation the last couple of years. The incidence of Juvenile Diabetes is rising sharply all over the world and supporting JDRF's initiative emphasizes the responsibility that children and adults need to take towards eating healthy and exercising. It is their hope that as this movement gains support, the beast will have been vanquished.

It is logical that groups of people working well together can effect a great impact within a community than individuals or organizations with internal discord. It is to this end, to grow and strengthen the kinsman-ship amongst its members that MAM organizes events like the community gardening project. For a period of four to five months, men, women and children worked to build a garden. They tilled, fertilized, planted, watered and harvested various crops. The hard work paid off with almost seven hundred pounds of harvest that was distributed within the community. The youth also gained valuable firsthand experience in agriculture. But more than anything, they reminisce about their agricultural gests every time they meet. Memories built to last a lifetime.

Parents were rewarded for their year round efforts in volunteering during Valentines day when MAM hosted a babysitting night where the kids dined, played and created crafts together. Older kids were instructed in the nuances of child care while mom and dad shared an evening out together. MAM believes that a close knit family begins with a strong bond of love between parents. At MAM's events, It is not unusual to see parents performing together in cultural activities. This is raised to lofty levels during India Fest when almost everyone gets involved in promoting the vision of India Fest. To promote India's culture and showcase its traditions. Would it surprise you then that the Malayalees of Memphis have been putting on the best performances at India Fest for many years in a row? The have raised the bar in creative showmanship through sheer effort, the desire to do their best and the oneness that makes it all possible.

It would behoove organizations to follow a model similar to MAM's in making a difference within the community that they live in. To build a strong bond within the organization before they head out to help others. Molding children to be better citizens of tomorrow by showing great enthusiasm in caring for others. And in the process, integrating themselves into the fabric of this nation. A place they now call home.

M for Marathi – A Tale of Inspiration and Dedication

Plano Marathi Class Spending Sunday mornings teaching Marathi to sleepy kids isn’t most peoples’ idea of fun.  Yet, that is exactly what a few dedicated souls do every weekend in Plano, Texas (USA). Meet Vidula Khadilkar, Anagha Railkar, Radhika Joshi, Pulkeshi Jape and Sneha Patwardhan - the wonderful volunteers at the Plano Marathi Class. This class is one of the many ‘Indian Language’ classes run across USA. Most of them are offered as a community service under the auspices of various cultural organizations, just like the one in Plano is affiliated to the Dallas-FortWorth (DFW) Maharashtra Mandal. All of them have a single noble objective - to familiarize our future generations with our languages, customs and traditions.

My association with the Plano Marathi Class is relatively recent. From Day 1, I have been very impressed with the way the class is organized and conducted. The enthusiasm and dedication that the teachers bring is contagious. My five year old loves going there! For her, it’s not just about learning Marathi, but also about bonding & socializing with other kids who ‘also speak Marathi at home’. This is a very important social aspect for children like her who experience one culture at home and an entirely different one outside.

The class recently celebrated Diwali by making traditional crafts like Akash-Diva. The festive atmosphere and the mouthwatering Diwali snacks provided a perfect backdrop for chatting with the kids, parents and teachers. So my first stop was Anagha. I caught her as she was getting the snacks and tea ready while the kids were trickling in. I resisted the urge to gobble up some delicious chaklis that she was setting on the plate, and dove directly into the conversation.

Anagha, give me some background about the class and your association with it. When and how did it start?

The class started in the 2002-2003 timeframe in a very informal way. A few enthusiastic families got together to teach ‘Maayboli Marathi’ to the kids. I have been teaching since its inception. The kids who started at the beginning have made excellent progress now. They can read and write the language really well, including ‘Jodakshara’ (Compound sounds) and ‘Barakhadi’ (Alphabet). The class has grown over time and so now we have split it up geographically – one in Plano and the other in Irving. The Plano class currently has an enrollment of 38 children, ranging between the ages of 4.5 years to 13 years. We have 4 levels that are divided based on age and competency level. So if a kid is at a higher or lower competency compared to same age peers, we adjust their level accordingly.

By this time, almost everyone had arrived. The other volunteers were busy settling them into different groups, handing out the craft material and a giving a quick dose of instructions. So I left them alone for the time being and turned towards some kids & parents. Listen to what they had to say –

Sania's Interview

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Adit's Interview

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The children looked lovely in their traditional outfits. It was nice to see them engrossed in making the crafts and chattering non-stop, while the parents helped out. So I approached Radhika and Pulkeshi for a quick tete-a-tete.

Radhika, how long have you been with the Marathi class? Can you tell me about the format of the class and the curriculum?

I have been with the class for 2 years now, since we moved to DFW. Prior to that, I have had some experience with the Detroit Marathi class. The classes here are conducted every Sunday morning. The kids are distributed into 4 levels. Right now I am teaching the ‘First’ level, so the kids are mostly below 7 years of age. These children have no or very little knowledge about Marathi. So my focus is to grow their vocabulary and introduce them to the Marathi Alphabet and simple numbers (1-20). We practice with a lot of speaking exercises, learn poems, songs and shlokas, and also do some alphabet writing to become familiar with the script.  In the second level, there is emphasis on growing writing skills, moving from alphabet to words. The third level is about sentence building and making paragraphs. Kids in the fourth level deal with more complex ideas such as grammar and essay writing. We also celebrate major Indian festivals in the class …just like this Diwali special class. The purpose is to familiarize kids with our traditions.

Pulkeshi, what motivates you to do this every weekend, taking time out from your tremendously hectic life? Is there any message you want to share with the Global Indian and Maharashtrian community, especially the kids?

It’s all about the kids. They are my motivation. I teach the older ones (Level 4) who can already read, write and converse well in Marathi. So if I dedicate a couple of hours per week for them, they feel inspired and encouraged to do even better, to go beyond the ordinary. Just 2 weeks ago we did a very fun exercise. I asked them to write the story of their favorite movie in Marathi. The kids did an amazing job….someone wrote about Avatar, another kid wrote about their favorite TV serial, and someone translated ‘Ate Chicken Strips’ as ‘Kombdichya pattya khallya’. So you see….such enthusiasm and joy from the kids makes it very easy for me.
One observation I want to share is that these days the children who grow up outside of India are better versed with our language and culture…possibly because there is a more conscious and targeted effort by the parents. I always give my students the example of an NRI I know, who grew up in London, but speaks fluently in Marathi with his son now. I would like to say the same thing to the Global Indian community as I tell my students, “It’s your choice and your responsibility. Only if you continue to speak, read and write [in your mother tongue], will you maintain the link with your culture”

By now the crafts had started to take shape. Some lovely ‘Panati’ (Lamp) wall hangings here, a few sparkly ‘Akash-Diva’ there! As I admired the children’s work, I got to talk to a few more participants. Listen to this.

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The craft session was almost done and people had started making a beeline to grab some tea and snacks. I finally got hold of a couple of chaklis, a cup of tea and went looking for Sneha.

Sneha, what is your role in the Marathi class? What are your impressions of the class?

I am the class coordinator. I handle class schedules, communications, organization of special events like this one, and just about anything that needs cohesion across teachers, students and parents. Of course, it’s always team work with the teachers putting in a lot of effort as well. I have also taught in the past. In general, the class has created greater interest about India and Marathi, not only for the kids, but also for some parents, who themselves have grown up outside the country. I think that the class also provides a wonderful social forum for new Maharashtrian families who move into the DFW area. Both the kids and parents can get to know people with similar backgrounds and many a times form deep friendships. And most importantly, we are trying to make this a fun learning experience for the kids so they sustain interest. For example, we have made Marathi placemats for the kids and also Marathi akshar (letter) cut outs for playing word games.

As I was finishing up chatting with Sneha, I noticed that some parent volunteers had hung up all the crafts in the hallway. All he hard work had paid off….it looked breathtaking! So it was time for more pictures and videos. By then, kids had finished eating and the littlest ones had assembled for a special performance. Under Radhika’s guidance, they sang a few shlokas and Diwali songs. What a treat for the eyes and the ears!

Two hours had flown by just like that and it was time to say goodbye. So I gathered my stuff, my kid and asked Vidula to share a few parting thoughts.

Vidula, you are one of the founder members of this class and you have seen it grow through the years. Share your thoughts about the evolution and future of the class.

It is amazing to see where the class is today and to see so many children participating. We started as a small group of like-minded friends who wanted to teach their children to read and write Marathi. Slowly the word spread, and more families joined us. Then we collaborated with the DFW Maharashtra Mandal so that the larger Maharashtrian community would know about it and benefit from it. Initially there were only 4 or 5 students. There was no set curriculum and we would teach simple things like Colors, Fruits, Vegetables, Flowers, Days of the week etc., basically anything that we thought our kids should know in Marathi. About 3 years ago, we got Brihan Maharashtra Mandal’s standard curriculum and that has helped us have a more formal and structured approach to teaching Marathi to different levels of students. Also, it has given us some fun exercises and activities to share with the student. Personally, my focus is always on teaching ‘Practical Marathi’, meaning the Marathi that children can use in everyday conversations.

One thing I would like to note is that now-a-days many kids have absolutely no familiarity with the language when they come to the class. Whereas when we started, the children were used to speaking in Marathi at home. So I always emphasize to the children and the parents that they need to continuously practice the language at home. Just learning it for 1 hour a week in the class is not sufficient.

As the Marathi speaking community here is growing, more and more families are getting interested in being a part of this effort. The children are enjoying the learning experience and also developing a sense of togetherness. I think the biggest point of pride for them and the parents is when they can converse effortlessly with the grandparents and other relatives when they visit India.

With the memories of a wonderful Diwali behind us, I look forward to the upcoming Sunday sessions.  I can’t wait to see the twinkle in my daughter’s eyes as she comes down the stairs after her ‘Marathi Class’. We always have a lot to chat in Marathi on the way back home!

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